Monthly Archives: October 2012

Pat’s petition may fail because good people did nothing

If you’re thinking, “She doesn’t LOOK disabled,” you’re a fool. Many disabled people don’t LOOK disabled. They hide the pain and try to live lives that are as normal as possible. If you’ve looked at someone with a disabled badge, or who you know claims benefit for a disability, and decided they didn’t deserve it because they don’t LOOK disabled, you need to tell yourself, it’s time to grow up. (In fact, I chose the picture because it represents despair. I have no idea whether the person in it has disabilities or not. But the point deserved to be made).

As I type this, the petition calling on the government to “stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families”, informally known as “Pat’s Petition”, which requires 100,000 signatures to secure a debate in Parliament, has gained just a few more than 60,000.

With less than half a day left (deadline is 10.12am on November 1) it seems likely that it’s not going to make it.

I think those who have signed deserve a vote of thanks. If you are one of those people, then you stood up for what you believed in, and can count yourself one of an extremely select group comprising 0.1 per cent of the UK’s population. Well done. I sincerely wish there were more of you.

The trouble is, I sincerely think there are more of you. The message just didn’t get across – partly because it was choked off by a mass media that has been howling for the blood of the sick and disabled since the government first started suggesting it was going to cut their money.

We’ve all seen the articles about “those filthy benefit scroungers” in the tabloid press, and seen some of them get caught on certain television programmes, and yes – there are a few people like that. But they are a tiny minority and it is monstrous that the actions of 0.4 per cent of claimants – that’s right, less than one per cent – are being used to justify the victimisation of 87 per cent of disabled people – seven-eighths of the total number of claimants. Doesn’t that seem disproportionate to you?

This is the percentage of those who, after going through a so-called ‘work capability assessment’ that we know through – again – TV documentaries is rigged, either lose their benefits completely or are told they will lose them after a period of one year, in which they must find a way to recover from (in some cases) progressively degenerative conditions.

So, if you decided you wouldn’t sign the petition because you think everyone claiming disability benefit is a fraud, then you’re a fool. You’ve let yourself be spoonfed tripe because you were told it’s caviar. I bet you’ve got a bad taste in your mouth right now. You deserve to.

If you want to what is really happening, to people with serious conditions that simply will not get better – no matter how much an ESA assessor or Job Centre Plus desk-jockey says they should – read this.

After that, if you can bear it, you might like to find out what has happened to at least one disabled person who had the audacity to protest against the way she, and fellow people with disabilities, have been treated – by reading this.

But there you go. Protestors cannot rely on the mass media because television stations, newspapers and radio channels are almost exclusively owned by people with a vested interest in keeping the plight of these victims of prejudice well and truly out of the public gaze. Go to sleep, they say. Do what we tell you. You are free… as long as you do what we tell you.

And you suck it on down and swallow it whole, don’t you?

The people behind the petition had to find other ways to promote it – virally, by word of mouth (or by passage from one internet user to their friends) – but clearly the act of lifting a few fingers to put a name to the petition was too much effort for many. That’s all you had to do. Lift your fingers. Hit a keyboard a few times. You didn’t even have to get up out of your chair.

There was an effort to get celebrities to endorse the petition. I’ve tried a few – only those with more than a million followers because I knew the kind of numbers that count and the simple fact is that most people were never likely to sign the petition. But if only one in 10 did, then a person with a million followers would have delivered up enough to get the petition to the next stage. You can probably work out who some of these people are.

That didn’t happen. Maybe they never saw the messages asking for their support – it’s entirely likely, as a person with that many people sending messages to them and only a limited amount of time to respond can’t possibly see everything that they receive. Maybe they were advised against it, for the sake of their careers. Maybe they were as gullible as everyone else who was taken in by the mass media manipulation of the truth. They’re not necessarily bad people just because they did nothing.

But that’s the problem. Einstein put it best: “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.”

Look at this: Thanks to a Freedom of Information request – to the government – we know that an average of 73 people a week are dying because their disability benefits have been removed by the government. In your name.

Think about that. Another 73 – on average – will die next week. In your name. Because you did nothing.

Alternatively – prove me wrong. There are still 12 hours left, as I type this. Get your name on the petition. Get your friends to sign it – stand over them until they do, because there really isn’t any time for “I’ll do it later” nonsense. Broadcast to as many people as you can that it needs help and use whatever arguments you need – including the one I just employed about the next death being your fault – to twist their arm and bring them to sign it.

There’s still time to do some good.

… Unless YOU make a conscious decision not to.

Internet surveillance plan will extend – not create – a communications ‘police state’

Nobody should be looking forward to having Big Brother watching us through our monitors, but he’s already reading our mail and listening to our phone calls.

Government monitoring of our mail and phone messages has been going on for years, and Theresa May’s plan to monitor every UK citizen’s online activity is merely an extension of this.

It’s still an unwarranted invasion of our privacy, but when has any government ever let that stop it?

According to the BBC, the current government’s plans mean service providers will have to store details of internet use in the UK for a year, to allow police and intelligence services to access it.

It will include for the first time details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet and gaming in addition to emails and phone calls.

The data includes the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it is made.

Hold on, did I say “for the first time” details of messages on social media?

What about the police who called on a female disability activist last week, in her home at midnight, in relation to comments she’d posted on Facebook about the Department for Work and Pensions’ cuts?

According to her account on the Pride’s Purge blog, “They told me they had come to investigate criminal activity that I was involved in on Facebook… They said complaints had been made about posts I’d made on Facebook about the Jobcentre.”

(All right, I know what you’re going to say – those posts were publicly-accessible. The point is that the police are already using social media to target people – in this case, an innocent woman)

According to Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, the planned legislation is “absolutely vital” in “proving associations” between criminals, and it was often possible to penetrate the top of a criminal gang by linking “foot soldiers” to those running operations.

Is this in the same way the police were able to use the postal service to target terrorist gangs? Because I’ve got a story about that.

It concerns a young man who was enjoying a play-by-mail game with other like-minded people. A war game, as it happens. They all had codenames, and made their moves by writing letters and putting them in the post (this was, clearly, before the internet).

One day, said young fellow arrived home from work (or wherever) to find his street cordoned off and a ring of armed police around it.

“What’s going on?” he asked a burly uniformed man who was armed to the teeth.

“Oh you can’t come through,” he was told. “We’ve identified a terrorist group in one of these houses and we have to get them out.”

“But I live on this street,” said our hero, innocently. “Which house is it?”

The constable told him.

“But that’s my house!” he said.

And suddenly all the guns were pointing at him.

They had reacted to a message he had sent, innocently, as part of the game. They’d had no reason to open the letter, but had done it anyway and, despite the fact that it was perfectly clear that it was part of a game, over-reacted.

What was the message?

“Ajax to Achilles: Bomb Liverpool!”

Expect further cock-ups of similar nature, pretty much as soon as the current proposals become law.

Living under the threat of welfare ‘reform’

If I could force Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs, politicians, and supporters to read what follows, I would. It was sent to me today in response to my article, Bedroom tax will put people on streets while homes go empty, and details exactly what the author – a fellow blogger going by the monicker Clarebelz – expects will happen to her after the bedroom tax and other so-called welfare ‘reforms’ come into effect, starting in April 2013.

This is not fiction.

It is what this person expects to become her reality.

While you are reading it, please ask yourself: Do you want to live in a society that treats its most vulnerable like this?

“I went shopping today to my local town with my carers. I only go a couple of times a year to get necessary things that are not available either online or at my local village. I had to pay for these things with a credit card.

“As the deadline for paying bedroom tax and council tax draws near I, along with others commenting here and elsewhere, are feeling ever more hopeless about the whole situation. I just wanted to go to bed when I came back, unable to face another day worrying about how the hell I’m going to manage when I’m hardly managing now.

“I pay back out of my DLA and ESA to the local authority £3,000 per year (it’s a myth that people with no assets pay nothing for care). My care plan has just been reduced by 25 per cent, the LA justifying that by saying, “We don’t fund that activity/job anymore”. Initially they wanted to cut it by 75 per cent, but I took advice and fought it. The activities/jobs that they won’t fund I still need, which will cost in the region of another £1,500 per year. When I next have a financial review, if they don’t reduce my contribution to take account of this, and I’m forced to pay rent and council tax, this will wipe out my food budget.

“And, if I lose out under Universal Credit, then I may as well just end it all because I am not going to be forced to go cap in hand to family or friends to survive; I couldn’t stand the humiliation after all I’ve been through both personally and physically, and such a situation makes you very vulnerable to abuse. A friend of mine had her DLA taken away and because of her mortgage costs she was left with £12 per week to live on (she daren’t apply for a flat anywhere as most are in horrible blocks that are drug/thief ridden). Her so-called friends offered help willingly at first, then they started bullying her and taking advantage of her. She got her DLA back, but she is still in a terrible psychological state because of the way people treated her. No thank you: I’m not going to go through that!

“Prior to complete destitution, I intend to demonstrate/beg on my street. I’m going to make large boards with my message on it, and get my carers to wheel me onto the main road to sit all day if necessary, so that the whole community can see what the government are doing to the vulnerable. I refuse to be hidden away like I was many times before when I used to go days or even a week at a time without heat, light or food. And whole winters without heat. No, this time I’m going to make sure that everyone knows. I’ll have nothing left to lose.

“This disgusting, despicable government has stolen the last two years from me through fear. I’ve just started painting again and doing other creative things that I used to, but it’s really hard to feel inspired when you’ve had the life sucked out of you, especially when your illness leaves you with little life left to do anything.

“I say that I’ll end it all, but really, we need to stick around so that the public can see our predicament. It’s just like others, it all feels so hopeless.

“By the way, my care plan assessor inquired about the bedroom tax for me from someone she knows at the DWP. The assessor said that the bedroom tax hits those of working age, which I knew anyway, but – interestingly – she said that the DWP person told her that the government has informed them that, once they have dealt with housing benefit in relation to people of working age, they will then move on to apply the same sanctions to pensioners, because many larger homes belong to pensioners who won’t move.

“So yet again the government are liars. Two years ago this autumn, Grant Shapps stated in a TV interview that the new rules would not apply to existing tenants; obviously not true. You can’t believe a word they say.

“Well, sorry to go on and on, but it’s been one of those days when I feel like, “What’s the point?” My home doesn’t even feel like my home any more; I have recurrent nightmares of my clothes and all my belongings strewn in the street, and my coming home to find a family have just moved in.

“It’s a horrible feeling.”

Omnishambles, omnishambles, omnishambles

Feeling tired? Don’t worry, Vince Van Winkle, we’ve got a cosy place in the Cabinet for you, next to Ken ‘Can’t Keep My Eyes Open’ Clarke!

Before the general election in 2010, David Cameron reminded us that Tony Blair had summed up his ambitions in three words, “Education, education, education”, then said he could manage his in three letters: “N.H.S.”

How wrong he was!

We now know that the correct three-word slogan would have been: “Omnishambles, omnishambles, omnishambles”!

Here’s three examples of Coalition government ineptitude that have fallen onto my desk during this morning alone.

1. The government is having to shred £350,000 worth of ballot papers for the Welsh police and crime commissioner elections after a late decision to print them in both English and Welsh.

There really is no excuse for this. I know for a fact that Labour and, I believe, Plaid Cymru were both pushing for bilingual ballots, months before now.

When Christine Gwyther heard the Home Office did not have Parliamentary approval for bi-lingual ballot papers and information to voters, she immediately took steps to rectify the matter, writing to Bryn Parry-Jones, the returning officer, who agreed to pursue it on an all-Wales basis. She told Labour’s Brecon and Radnorshire constituency party the story at its meeting in September, which was one and a half months ago at the time of writing.

The government says the cost will be met from the £75 million election budget. I find this unconscionable. People across the country are getting into terrible states of anxiety over how to afford an extra £20 or £30 a month due to benefit cuts (of which more in a moment), but this government is prepared to throw away hundreds of thousands of pounds because its members couldn’t be bothered to make a perfectly simple decision in a reasonable amount of time.


2. A senior Downing Street aide has quit working for David Cameron in order to join, the loan company that charges bizarrely exorbitant rates of interest – more than 4,000 per cent. This is according to Sky News.

Jonathan Luff has done this, allegedly, at a time when the Office of Fair Trading is trying to crack down on payday lenders and concern is high about the industry’s business practices. The question is whether the move will give Wonga inappropriate access to ministerial decision-makers.

I guess we’ll find out, if the issue mysteriously goes away in the immediate future, with no explanation.

Already, critics have denounced the move as a sign of what Conservative supporters are really interested in – not the good of the country, but the size of their bank accounts.


3. Finally, in an article on this very blog, I seem to have revealed ambiguities in the plan for the new, so-called “bedroom tax” that could add tens, if not hundreds of pounds to the cost for people renting council- or social houses.

It seems that it is unclear whether the amounts to be removed from housing benefit – 14 per cent for one extra bedroom, 25 per cent for two or more – are to be taken from the amount of benefit being paid, or from the total rent being paid on the property. One of my readers tells me that Cornwall Council has taken the latter stance, meaning a loss of £21 per week for the first spare bedroom, £29 per week for two – considerably more than the advertised average of £14 per week.

Social housing provider Bromford, on the other hand, states clearly that it is a household’s housing benefit entitlement that will be cut, which seems to make it clear that it is a percentage of the benefit, not the full rent.

One wonders whether the government will stir itself to provide a definitive answer before the new rules come into practice next April. I shall not be holding my breath in anticipation.

Oh, and households with students away from home for less than 52 weeks per year – exempted under the new rules – will find that Cornwall Council doesn’t see it that way, either. from the form letter: “If you have an extra bedroom(s) for children who don’t live with you full time, the Government will count this as a spare bedroom and your benefit will be cut.”


Bubbling under, we have the accusation against Business Secretary Vince Cable that he slept through the new Cabinet Growth Committee’s meetings, as he seems to know nothing about them despite being, as I understand it, the vice-chair.

Coming soon: Borishambles.

Bedroom tax will put people on streets while homes go empty

The National Housing Federation ran a campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ while the legislation was going through Parliament – but the government was blind to the concerns of this expert organisation.

By now you should know that you’ll be in financial trouble from April next year, if you receive housing benefit and the government decides you’ve got one or two too many bedrooms.

This applies to people who are working but on low pay, who must therefore claim housing benefit in order to keep a roof over their heads. This means it applies to 93 per cent of people who have claimed housing benefit since the Coalition government came to power (only seven per cent of claimants were unemployed).

It applies to separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit).

It applies to couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.

It applies to foster carers, because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes (this is particularly evil, in my view).

It applies to parents whose children visit but are not part of the household -although housholds where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or six months (under Universal Credit). Students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, but full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit (more on this elsewhere in the article). Students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week.

It applies to families with disabled children; and

It applies to disabled people, including those living in adapted or specially designed properties (again, this is evil, as it could mean these people will be required to leave that home for another one, with the added expense of having to re-install all the special adaptations).

Pensioners will not be affected – unless they are part of a couple and the partner is below pension age, after Universal Credit is introduced.

The size criteria that will be applied means housing benefit wil be restricted to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. However:

Children under 16, who are either both boys or both girls, will be expected to share. This will undoubtedly create many family feuds as puberty is not known for its calming effect on young people.

Children under 10 will be expected to share, regardless of gender. Again, this will create problems for families. It is not a normal situation and it seems bizarre for the government to suggest that it should be.

On the ‘plus’ side, a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom for that carer.   If you have a ‘spare’ bedroom under the new rules, you will lose 14 per cent of your housing benefit; for two or more extra bedrooms, you’ll lose a quarter of your benefit. According to the government’s impact assessment, this means 660,000 people will lose an average of £14 per week (£16 for housing association tenants).

Now for the complications.

After Universal Credit is brought in, if only one member of a couple is over pension age, the bedroom tax will apply to the household. If one is receiving Pension Credit, they will be unaffected.

There are currently six different rates of ‘non-dependent deductions’ – amounts removed from housing benefit according to the earnings of people aged over 18 who live in a household but are not dependent on the tenant for financial support. This will become one flat-rate ‘housing cost contribution’ that will be deducted from housing benefit. It will not apply to anyone aged under 21.

Under UC, each adult non-dependent will get their own room, but each must pay the full, flat-rate housing cost contribution – unless aged under 21 and therefore exempt.

Under UC, lodgers will not get a room allowance but any income is disregarded. They will not count as occupying a room under size criteria rules. Currently any income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit, apart from the first £20. As this income is completely disregarded under UC, my best guess is that the government expects this amount to cover any loss in both housing benefit and Universal Credit. I have a doubt about that. Taking in a lodger will also affect home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating them or raising the premiums.

Bedroom tax will not apply in joint tenancy cases.

Until UC comes in, benefits will be protected for up to 52 weeks after death; afterwards the run-on will be three months.

And until UC comes in, tenants will receive 13 weeks’ protection where they could previously afford the rent and housing benefit has not been claimed in the previous year; afterwards, the size criteria will apply immediately.   Pre-1989 tenancies are not exempt from the bedroom tax.

Those are the facts relating to this particular benefit change. There are others which will also affect your ability to keep your home, but – concentrating on this for a moment – you’re probably already screaming “What does it MEAN?” in frustration at your screen.

If you’re on a low income, aged over 40 with children who have left home, or disabled, you could be not only slightly but severely and unfairly affected. It seems likely you will have to choose to either pay the extra amount, or move. It seems likely that I will be in this category, so be assured that I sympathise completely with everyone else in the same situation.

And there will be many, many people who are. Surveys say around a third of tenants will try to move, mainly to one-bedroom properties. This is far more than the government has anticipated in its planning.

Here’s where things get suspicious: There is a national shortage of one bedroom council and housing association homes, meaning many tenants will have no choice but to move into the more expensive private sector or stay put – even though they will not be able to afford the extra costs.

The majority will stay put, but nearly eight-tenths (80 per cent) of those are worried about going into debt, with two-fifths (40 per cent) fearing they will accumulate rent arrears.

The evidence shows that, whether you move or stay put, landlords will lose income, which in turn means evictions and homelessness will increase. This is my belief. We will see a lot of people going homeless at the same time as a lot of houses go empty.

In fact, homelessness is already on the rise – as it always is under a Conservative government. According to the National Housing Federation – the umbrella organisation for housing associations in England – there has been a leap of nearly 50 per cent in the number of families forced into B&Bs. Between January and March this year, they totalled 3,960, compared with 2,750 during the same period in 2011. That number will escalate under the new legislation.

Any fool can see that this is madness. The logical choice has to be that people, who would otherwise go homeless, should be housed in buildings that would otherwise go empty.

But we are under the heel of a government that has little to do with sanity. The sane choice – in order to keep housing benefit payments down – is to cap rents at a particular, affordable, level. This way, landlords receive a steady amount of money, tenants keep their homes, and housing benefit remains manageable. But the government cannot tolerate this as it is deemed to be unwarranted interference in the market. Never mind the fact that the market could collapse if enough homes go empty! The idea is that the steady drive to increase rents will attract people rich enough to afford them. Again, one wonders where these people are and how they will be able to pay. Also, every price bubble eventually pops, so sooner or later – again – we’ll have a lot of homeless people on the streets while buildings go empty and (eventually) derelict.

Am I painting a depressing picture? Let’s add to the misery by reminding you that housing benefit is being withdrawn for everybody aged under 25. The assumption is that they will return to the family home if they can’t afford their rent – but that is a big assumption. There may be reasons they cannot do so (I’m sure you can imagine some for yourself). what do they do then? Housing benefit itself is being capped. And then there is the Localism Act and its effect on Council Tax payments. From responses to my previous article about the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, you will be able to see that some councils will add as much as 30 per cent of the council tax bill to the costs of those tenants who currently receive full council tax benefit, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. And has anybody said anything recently about the plan to cap all benefits at £500-per-week-per-household?

If you want to call on the government to axe the bedroom tax, there is an e-petition against it:

Police move on campaigners for “criminal acts against DWP”

Having Mr Bean in the Cabinet – or at least his alter-ego, Rowan Atkinson – might not be as ridiculous as this image suggests. He talked more sense in a 10-minute presentation about free speech than the Department for Work and Pensions has in the last two and a half years.

Some of you may be aware that police invaded the home of a campaigner for Disabled People Against Cuts, living in Cardiff, just before midnight yesterday (October 26).

Apparently she had been accused of “Criminal acts against the Department for Work and Pensions” – being that she has been highlighting the deaths of sick and disabled people following reassessment by Atos and the DWP for Employment and Support Allowance.

No charges were brought against the lady concerned and it is generally considered that this was an act of intimidation.

Since then, I have been informed of three other incidents in which police either visited campaigners at home or stopped them in the street to, in colloquial terms, “put the frighteners on them”. Two were vulnerable women with mental illness, one of whom lives alone.

The forces allegedly involved were South Wales, Dyfed Powys and North Yorkshire Police.

I don’t know what legislation these constables were quoting as the legal grounds for these intrusions. It seems likely it may have been the Public Order Act, section five, which states, “(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”

But this applies only if a person has been the victim – not an organisation like the DWP.

If it is the Public Order Act, then this provides an opportunity to quote Rowan Atkinson’s speech at the ‘Reform Section 5’ Parliamentary reception earlier this month.

Mention of Mr Atkinson may have already invoked, in your mind, the ‘Constable Savage’ sketch from Not The 9 O’Clock News, in which a police officer is berated for arresting the same man on charges of “Walking on the cracks in the pavement”, “Walking around with an offensive wife”, and “Looking at me in a funny way”, amongst others.

If it didn’t, go and watch the speech because he makes free reference to that sketch in it.

“I suspect [I am] highly unlikely to be arrested for whatever laws exist to contain free expression because of the undoubtedly privileged position that is afforded to those of a high public profile,” said Mr Atkinson.

“My concerns are… more for those who are more vulnerable because of their lower profile – like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse ‘gay’.”

He said: “Even for actions that were withdrawn, people were arrested, questioned, taken to court… and then released. That isn’t a law working properly. That is censoriousness of the most intimidating kind, guaranteed to have… a ‘chilling effect’ on free expression and free protest.”

He said: “The reasonable and well-intentioned ambition to contain obnoxious elements in society has created a society of an extraordinarily authoritarian and controlling nature. It is what you might call ‘the new intolerance’ – a new but intense desire to gag uncomfortable voices of dissent.

“Underlying prejudices, injustices or resentments are not addressed by arresting people; they are addressed by the issues being aired, argued and dealt with, preferably outside the legal process.”

Hear, hear.

Of course, this all makes the police look even worse than they’ve been made to seem in recent weeks. First the Hillsborough cover-up came out into the open, then the (many) Jimmy Savile cover-ups, and now – yet again – it seems the government is using police services across the country as a tool for political repression.

The ability to rely on an impartial system of law and order underpins the whole of British society. Use of the police in this way erodes confidence in law and order and, therefore, in society itself.

Police intimidation of those who speak out against the injustices of the DWP and its Atos employees is not only an attack on free speech; it is an attack on the entire philosophy on which our society is based.

Benefits: how much information are the authorities holding back?

It might look like another boring benefit claim form to you, but to some people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, the sight of an ESA50 is enough to trigger anxiety, panic, or even heart attacks.

The British economy might be out of recession but the Coalition cuts regime marches ever onward – especially if you are claiming – or lucky enough to be receiving – the much-maligned Employment and Support Allowance.

(It was never about dealing with our economic difficulties, you see. It was always about shrinking the state and cutting the number of people dependent on it for their living – by one method or another).

The latest wheeze among Job Centre Plus staff appears to be the practice of missing out important information about your benefit such as, for example, the fact that being put in the work-related activity group of ESA claimants means you only receive the benefit for 365 days and during that period you should try to make yourself ready for work. After then, you will be put on Jobseekers’ Allowance and subjected to all the sanctions and requirements that entails – including, presumably, Workfare.

Can you imagine what would happen to someone with agoraphobia, who suffers from panic attacks, if they were put on a work placement scheme?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the authorities wouldn’t be ignorant enough to put anyone in a work placement that might be harmful to their health or to their attempts to recover from their condition. Well, if you’re on ESA, all I can say is good luck with that. I’ll be back in a year or so to ask how it worked out for you.

We all know of many cases in which people with disabilities or health problems have been put into situations that have worsened their conditions. The most famous examples were terminal – the people involved are now dead. I understand the average number of deaths per week is now 78. Iain Duncan Smith must be beside himself with joy.

But there are many others who, although they are being pushed to the limit by a system that has been twisted to make it as unhelpful as possible, are still persevering. I know of people who have been put on the work-related activity group of ESA, but weren’t told about the time limit and were left high and dry when the money ran out.

Are you on ESA? Are you in the work-related activity group? Do you know when your benefit will end?

At least that person was lucky enough to receive notification of what was happening to them. Another person, on heavy medication for painful conditions, did not realise they had been moved from Incapacity Benefit to ESA and was astonished to find they had taken and work capability assessment and failed it. The result? They were kicked off the benefit. Fortunately, they appealed and won. But the experience was extremely traumatic.

Make no mistake – this is a system that is designed to intimidate you; to weaken you; to push you into the sidelines in the hope that you’ll go away and be no more bother to those who run it.

“The Work Capability Assessment is being continually reviewed and refined, through a series of annual independent reviews, with improvements resulting in a fairer and more accurate system,” according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

That’s excluding where you live, apparently.

Bettison’s resignation shows yet again the double standards of our justice system

Why is it permissible to investigate possible misconduct by Sir Norman Bettison after he has retired, but not permissible to investigate misconduct by other retired police officers? Is it because the allegations against him are related to the high-profile Hillsborough tragedy, and nobody will care about YOUR case?

Sir Norman Bettison’s resignation as chief constable of West Yorkshire Police has infuriated me.

You might be surprised at this. You probably think it’s exactly what he should have done after he was accused, in Parliament, of boasting about fabricating stories to blame Liverpool supporters for the Hillsborough disaster, while he was serving with South Yorkshire Police in 1989.

I’m not angry about that. I’m angry because the Independent Police Complaints Commission released a statement after Bettison’s announcement, saying that it will continue to investigate his alleged part in the Hillsborough cover-up. The statement said: “We can, and in this case will, investigate criminal offences and misconduct matters after an officer has retired or resigned.”

This is not what you would get, if you tried to allege misconduct against a retired police officer. Believe me – I know!

That’s why I say this story demonstrates the difference between what happens in a high-publicity case, when a large number of people create a fuss, supported by people who are in the public eye, and what happens when an ordinary person goes to the police with an allegation of misconduct against a retired officer.

If you have read this column before, you will be aware that I have had dealings with the police over allegations by my disabled girlfriend (and her disabled mother) against a man who abused them mentally, physically and sexually. Their complaints to the police, made separately, went uninvestigated and the mother was actually sent back into an abusive environment by officers at her local police station.

When they made a joint complaint a couple of years ago, they wanted misconduct investigations launched into the behaviour of the police officers who had been involved in these incidents (which took place over a 28-year period, starting in the 1970s).

The response was that these investigations could not possibly take place – because many of the officers involved had since retired. In a face-to-face interview with an investigating officer on May 12, 2010, he told us: “Those who have retired don’t come under police conduct rules.”

In other words, any police officer – who may have committed crimes or acts of misconduct, but has since retired – will always get away scot free.

That’s the justice we got.

That’s why the IPCC’s unctuous and hypocritical attempt to ingratiate itself with the public by leaping to the attack on this high-publicity issue fills me with fury. Faced with such flagrant double-standards, the only rational response is disgust.

Who is this overprivileged loon who thinks senior citizens are a burden on the state?

So some gangrenous cadaver calling himself Lord Bichard reckons pensioners should do community work or lose their benefit, does he?

He thinks this will stop them from being a “burden on the state”, according to the BBC website.

If I were a pensioner, I would have got straight on a bus for the House of Lords to demand that he be de-throned, de-frocked or dis-ennobled – whatever it takes to strip him of the title he so clearly doesn’t deserve.

These “burdens on the state” have contributed something like a quarter of their earnings to the state, throughout their entire working lives!

They have helped build up the state, maintained it, and defended it.

They receive a pension – and a meagre sum it is, too – because the state owes it to them in return for all that they have contributed to it!

Now, who wants to talk about how much the state should pay to useless life peers who only turn up at the House of Lords to pick up their allowance and spend the rest of their lives with their heads up their own backsides?